Monday, October 15, 2012

Trout Brook Valley hawk walk 10/13

The second Trout Brook Valley fall hawk walk of the season by the Aspetuck Land Trust (check out results of the first here) was on a very different sort of day, as a crisp and sunny October morning greeted the over 70 people who joined us to learn about raptors and see some up close. Once again, Larry Fischer, licensed bird bander and raptor expert, was up and out early to try to catch a couple of hawks for us. The incredible orchard and grasslands were full of life as a cold front had passed through the day before allowing millions upon millions of songbirds to take the skies that night, migrating to the south and along the Atlantic coast on the northwesterly winds. With all of the birds and the wonderful number of visitors, I scarcely had time to stop and take photos! One had to look this direction, that way, up here, then over the horizon, then down in the tree in front of us, and so forth.

Charlie Barnard Jr., expert birder and naturalist, also once again came to help discover birds all morning. As everyone arrived, we chatted with visitors while excitedly tallying species. Eastern Bluebirds were lining the fence and flying over while Blue Jays were migrating to the west. Palm Warblers were pumping their tails in front of us in the blueberry patch.

 Palm Warbler

Pumping its tail and wondering if these dozens of people are going to compete for its insect breakfast

White-throated and Chipping Sparrows were heard in good numbers, and a loud Eastern Towhee made sure he was not forgotten. We saw an adult Bald Eagle fly just overhead moving to the south while a Northern Harrier cruised through several feet off the ground. Most of the visitors had arrived by the time Jacquie Littlejohn, Aspetuck Land Trust volunteer, gathered everyone together to tell us that Larry had captured a couple of raptors. She discussed the site and introduced us, and I spoke a little more about the property as Larry arrived and got ready to speak. The crowd continued to build as he began to talk about raptors.

Larry on the right holding a couple of beautiful surprises

Larry focused on the American Kestrel, the most ubiquitous raptor that morning. Kestrels are the most important raptor that the orchard and grasslands host as they are such a rapidly declining species. Throughout their existence, they are dependent on properties such as this one for nesting, feeding, stopping over to rest, and all other facets of life.

  Can you identify what he has in those cans from this view alone?

As Larry and I mentioned that morning, agriculture has declined precipitously in our region, and fields and grasslands of the past have converted to forest or have been used for development. The open spaces we do have are typically baseball or softball and soccer fields, perhaps parks or picnic areas, all mowed lawns that cater to only a very small sliver of already abundant birds like the American Robin. These overwhelming common development types certainly do not fall into the category of "open space", and when they are called such it should be understand that their usage is solely for humans. Areas like Trout Brook Valley prioritize the natural world and thousands of species over just one.

  Discussing the geography of the property featuring habitat that can be seen from lofty heights

Maintaining this property forever is of vital important to the American Kestrel in the northeast. Birds can see this area from very high in the sky and decidedly favor it in migration, hosting thousands every season. This was a perfect transition into the raptor presentation as the two birds Larry had trapped to band and show the crowd were an American Kestrel male and female, two of at least a dozen seen that day.

 American Kestrel male

The huge crowd was extremely excited to see these two fantastic birds in hand, and they were very tolerant of the many eyes locked on them. Larry went on to discuss some of their biology, from flight styles and abilities to their talons and bills, what they hunt and how they hunt. They stayed calm, occasionally biting at Larry's hand, knowing he was the guy who made them take this little morning break.

 They look so small up close to me, every single time

Larry talked about bird banding and how he became a federally licensed bander, going through the process of studying under master banders all the way to different band sizes and types. He discussed how he trapped these two birds, using the same system as he did for the last hike. While talking about all of this we had a juvenile Bald Eagle fly slowly right overhead offering wondrous looks for everyone. Larry mentioned that the bird was probably banded itself from one of the Bald Eagle nests in the county. As if that was not enough we also had more American Kestrels demonstrating their flight abilities behind us in the orchard.

Female on the left, male on the right

Those who were bold enough were able to take a quick feel of the feathers of one of the birds, though they were not quite as cooperative as our previous pair on the last hike. Nevertheless, these birds were never agitated in any significant way whatsoever, and if they were Larry would have let them go immediately. These two birds were also very healthy and came in at a strong weight for their species and respective sex, and there was no concern about them not hunting for a half hour. We all took one last look before handing them off to some of the children present who assisted them in taking flight back into the wild.

 Saying goodbye, and we hope to see those two back again soon

They soared over our heads and resumed hunting almost immediately. We then continued the discussion on more of the incredible life Trout Brook Valley holds, from its vernal pools with state-listed amphibians to state-listed dragonflies and state-listed turtles and more. At that point, the group readied to set out on our hike through the orchard to see what could be found.

Ready to set out on the perfect October morning

Here is the superb list of birds seen on the day along with some very high totals far into the hundreds for some species. All of those American Crows were feeding on pumpkin leftovers in the farm fields, keeping away many other would-be diners and any raptors from that section of the orchard. Most of the songbirds were lining the western edge of the fence line in the grasses and shrubs separating the orchard from the trees that are the beginning of the forested section of Trout Brook Valley. Some were migrating throughout the morning, like Purple Finch and Pine Siskin, while others were feeding right in front of us, like the Eastern Phoebe, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Pipit, and so many more. All of my numbers are conservative if I could not fully count them, and who knows how many "goodies" were missed in the masses.

Canada Goose  77
Double-crested Cormorant  300
Black Vulture  4
Turkey Vulture  14
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  2
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  5
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  2
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  7
American Kestrel  12
Eastern Phoebe  13
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  37
American Crow  270
Fish Crow  4
Common Raven  1
Tree Swallow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  9
Tufted Titmouse  6
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Carolina Wren  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  7
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Eastern Bluebird  18
American Robin  24
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
American Pipit  33
Cedar Waxwing  8
Common Yellowthroat  1
Palm Warbler (Western)  1
Palm Warbler (Yellow)  26
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  18
Eastern Towhee  5
Chipping Sparrow  46
Clay-colored Sparrow  1
Field Sparrow  11
Savannah Sparrow  34
Grasshopper Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  425
Lincoln's Sparrow  3
Swamp Sparrow  22
White-throated Sparrow  136
White-crowned Sparrow  7
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  19
Northern Cardinal  4
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Common Grackle  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Purple Finch  42
House Finch  55
Pine Siskin  29
American Goldfinch  56

A big thanks to everyone who joined us - we hope you had a terrific morning! Thanks again to Larry for capturing such awesome birds for everyone to learn about up close and personal. If you are looking for a lovely spot to enjoy the birds, the views, and the colors of the fall season, stop at Trout Brook Valley before October ends. You will not regret it. While our survey period for the year-long study at the site for the Aspetuck Land Trust has now ended, I will be back there soon when I have a little free time just to enjoy all that it has to offer.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician
Photos © Scott Kruitbosch and not to be reproduced without explicit permission

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